Iran and Japan welcome key players back from suspension as they prepare to face off in the Asian Cup semi-finals on Monday.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the description of his side as favourites to win the Asian Cup was an "ill-fitting tag" as he prepares to face Japan in the semi-final without three-goal forward Mehdi Taremi.
Queiroz claimed Team Melli had achieved their tournament objective after Taremi scored the opening goal in a 3-0 quarter-final victory over China to help them reach the competition's last four for the ninth time.
Speaking before the elimination of South Korea and Australia at the hands of Qatar and United Arab Emirates, respectively, Queiroz played down his side's chances of winning a fourth Asian Cup title.
"Our dream has always been to be in the middle of the top teams in the final four, something which we have now done and are very happy about," said the 65-year-old told.
"However, there are only three favourites to win this competition and they are Japan, Korea Republic and Australia. For us to be labelled favourites is not correct, it is an ill-fitting tag.
"In front of us we have just another game. Of course, the game has added significance in terms of enthusiasm and excitement, but when the whistle goes you simply have to play."
Taremi, who scored a brace in Iran's 5-0 win over Yemen in the group stage, collected his second yellow card of the tournament in the win over China and is suspended for Monday's clash with Japan.
Vahid Amiri will likely come back into the side after serving a suspension and Queiroz urged his players not to rest on their laurels after winning all five of their games so far without conceding a goal.
"We know the big sharks will come for us – the favourites of Asian football – Japan and Korea Republic are coming for us, so we need to do more," said Queiroz.
"I always say to my team that after a match the Iranian shirt must always be in a higher place. What we did against China will not work, so we need to ensure that we improve game after game."
Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu welcomes Yoshinori Muto back after he served a suspension and the Newcastle United forward will add much-needed creativity to the low-scoring Samurai Blue.
Moriyasu's men won each of their last four games by a one-goal margin, but he said his players are on a learning curve.
"The approach will be based on our opponents, but we have learnt so much in the Asian Cup," said Moriyasu, before learning Japan would face Iran at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
"We have had to defend, as was the case against Saudi Arabia [1-0 victory in the round of 16] and sometimes we dominated but couldn't find a way through.
"These experiences will be used to prepare the team for the semi-final."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sardar Azmoun (Iran)
Rubin Kazan forward Azmoun has lived up to his billing as Iran's attacking talisman, scoring four goals across the tournament so far including their second in the quarter-final win over China.
Yoshinuri Muto (Japan)
Japan's tournament got off to a poor start when they fell behind against Uzbekistan in their opening match, but Muto equalised three minutes later and his cool head will be essential as they aim to reach the final.
Key Opta Facts:
- This will be the fourth Asian Cup meeting between Iran and Japan, with their other three encounters coming in the group stages, Iran failing to score on each occasion (D2 L1).
- Iran and Japan's three Asian Cup clashes have seen just one goal scored, Japan's Kazuyoshi Miura netting the winner in 1992 to secure a 1-0 victory for the Samurai Blue.
- Iran have reached the semi-finals of the Asian Cup for the first time since the 2004 edition – however, they have failed to progress from each of their last five semi-finals, with three of those eliminations coming via penalty shoot-outs.
- Japan have made it to the semi-finals in five of the last six Asian Cup tournaments (2000, 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2019), with the only exception coming in 2015 – their only defeat at this stage of the competition came in 2007, a 3-2 loss against Saudi Arabia.
- Iran last made it to the final of the Asian Cup back in 1976, when they won the tournament for a third consecutive occasion (1968, 1972 and 1976).
- Japan have lost just one of their last 33 games at the Asian Cup since the start of the 2000 tournament (W23 D9 L1) and are unbeaten in the competition since a 3-2 defeat against Saudi Arabia in the 2007 semi-finals (P16 W12 D4 L0 since).